Monday

8th Mar 2021

EU leaders spend ill-tempered evening on Greece, migrants

  • “If this is your idea of Europe you can keep it" - PM Renzi (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

EU leaders gathered for what turned out to be their most ill-tempered summit in years on Thursday, exposing the fragility of member-state relations on key issues of the day: Greece and migration.

They started off the evening with a two-hour discussion on Greece in a debate that saw the Dutch leader say that if no deal is reached on Saturday – the new deadline – then it is time to think of next steps.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Cameron took the floor for less than 10 minutes while none of his colleagues spoke on Britain's EU issue.

They also refused to discuss the substance of a Greek deal – currently stalling on issues such as VAT levels – and refused to take it back up to a political level by having another summit of euro leaders.

The exchange saw European Council President Donald Tusk tell Alexis Tsipras it's “game over” while the Greek leader spoke of his nation being humiliated.

Outside the room, briefing journalists, the Bulgarian leader Boyko Borissov complained that Athens was using up all the political oxygen.

"They are our neighbours, I respect them, but we also have problems we want Europe to hear about, it is not only [their problems],” he said.

But the Greek exchange paled in comparison to the discussion on migration which saw the presidents of the commission and council fall out over of the substance of proposals on migration.

Tusk was pushing for an agreement on proposals to relocate 40,000 migrants across member states to be taken by consensus while Juncker insisted on decisions being taken by a qualified majority vote.

The two presidents also disagreed over whether the scheme should be voluntary or mandatory.

There were lengthy discussions on how to reach the target if it was only voluntary (as was agreed) and on what consensus means and which member states deserved to take fewer migrants.

Meanwhile Italian PM Matteo Renzi, who has long been asking other states for help with the thousands of asylum-seekers who arrive at his country's shores from North Africa, lashed out at his colleagues.

“If this is your idea of Europe you can keep it,” he said, according to Italian media. “Either there’s solidarity or we are wasting time… If you want a voluntary agreement, you can cancel the whole thing; we’ll do it by ourselves.”

The signs that the commission's proposal would be controversial were already apparent ahead of the summit. Eastern European states in particular complained about having a 'binding' key that would see migrants distributed according to GDP and population size.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is generally cautious in her statements, noted after the five-hour discussion: "With the migration question we are facing the biggest challenge for the European Union that I have seen during my term in office".

After the meeting, Juncker, a veteran of EU politics, played down reports of the dispute. "Don't believe those who are tweeting," he said.

"There was no conflict between me and Donald (Tusk)," he added though he also admitted that even if there was one he wouldn't tell journalists.

He also pointed out that there must be a more "suitable" way for the EU to conduct business noting that "I am awake but tired" after having only got three hours sleep on Wednesday evening and with the summit on Thursday finishing at 3am.

Sources said that tempers frayed to such an extent that a presentation by British leader David Cameron on his plans for an referendum on EU membership – a profoundly important question for the bloc – eased tensions.

Cameron took the floor for less than 10 minutes while none of his colleagues spoke on Britain's EU issue.

Tusk remarked that "the talks will now get under way" and said that Cameron "did not present detailed proposals" with diplomats noting that the UK leader does not want to pin himself down to an EU reform list in case he does not manage to see it through.

Tusk also noted that the "fundamental values of the EU are not for sale".

The issue will be dealt with when EU leader meet in December.

Analysis

Relief in EPP group, as Orbán's party finally leaves

The debate over Fidesz had become an unbearable political burden on EPP - but it also represented a core dilemma for many centre-right, mainstream parties struggling to deal with their populist challengers.

EPP group moves forward to suspend Orban's Fidesz

MEPs are scheduled to vote on Wednesday to change the rules of procedure of the centre-right European People's Party parliamentary group to allow the suspension of a member party.

EUobserved

The trap of spreading ideas while attacking them

Ideas that are attacked are actually being promulgated. That has been the case for centuries, at least as far back as Thomas Aquinas. And that is certainly the case today with Facebook and Twitter.

Coronavirus

EU adds new 'dark red' zone to travel-restrictions map

The European Commission has proposed additional measures to limit non-essential travel within and to the European Union - amid fears over more transmissible mutations triggering a new surge in cases across the bloc.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. Frontex's 'serious incident reports' - revealed
  2. Women hit 'disproportionately' hard by Covid-19, report finds
  3. EU 'Future' Conference plus Covid recovery talks This WEEK
  4. Covid-19 recovery: How to miss the target even with a bazooka
  5. Who cares? Precarious situation facing 21st century heroines
  6. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  7. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  8. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us